Lydia Slater - Times

Desire for security is fueling a huge market in bodyguards. We enter the shadowy world of 24-hour protection“OK, Principal is ready to go,” mutters my black-clad escort Gary. A burst of chatter from his curly-wired earpiece and we are off, walking briskly to our waiting convoy, his bulk shielding me from possible sniper attack. Crop-haired Michael, looking rather tense, is guarding me from potential assault by the retired teachers who live at No. 39, while keen-eyed Bob scans the road for lethal buggy-wielding mothers on the school run.

Ours is not a discreet departure: in fact, by the time we purr away, a group of passers-by has stopped in astonishment. But although I am distinctly embarrassed, I must admit that I feel safer on my busy, inner-city street than ever before.

My experience is an increasing reality, especially in London. Bodyguards used to be perceived as required only for royalty, important politicians and a few megastars. Now, they are big business. A combination of an influx of the super-rich into the capital, the home-grown new wealth of the dot-com and hedge-fund millionaires and a general perception that the world is a more dangerous place has increased demand for personal protection. According to the International Bodyguard Association, business has grown by 300 per cent in the past few years. These days, it seems everyone’s getting in on the act, from Heather Mills to Sir Philip Green, the owner of Topshop.

 

Although I rang daily for weeks to get an accurate figure, I was unable to get through to the Security Industry Authority, which licenses all bodyguards; the phone was permanently engaged, doubtless with eager new applicants. But the latest published figures suggest that there are 3,029 bodyguards in Britain, most of whom work in the capital.

Many of these will have been hired as fashion accessories for demi-celebs, who know that arriving with a posse will automatically ensure they are the centre of attention. “A lot of that market is just a vanity accessory,” says Richard Fenning, the chief executive of Control Risks. “Most of what we do is to help people go to frontier locations as part of their activities – if they’re opening a mine somewhere or digging for oil.”

Neither sort of close protection comes cheap. The starting rate for a Close Protection Operative, as bodyguards are known in the industry, is about £250 a day, rising to £650. No wonder the cost of Heather Mills’s security has been a contentious issue in her divorce from Sir Paul McCartney, and that complaints have been made about the £500,000-a-year cost of protecting princesses Beatrice and Eugenie round the clock. Were I paying, the protection I’m getting today would set me back at least £1,250. However, Gary, Carl, Michael, Matt and Bob are all about to complete their training on the close protection course run by Task International, one of the leading personal security firms, and I am their guinea pig. Their trainer pops up at odd intervals during the day to check they’ve learnt their stuff.

All the boys have been in the Forces and speak softly in a strange language peppered with acronyms: CPO (close protection operative), DOP (drop-off point), SD (security driver), PPO (personal protection officer). I am the Principal, and they call me “Ma’am” as if I were the Queen. It is all very ego-boosting. As a Principal, I have been provided with two Mercedes for my exclusive use: one for me, which has been thoughtfully stocked with my favourite mineral water and a copy of The Times; one for the back-up team should the worst happen and I need rescuing from a hostage scenario, bomb blast or horde of screaming fans.

My itinerary (which I had to provide a day in advance, so they could check out possible danger points) is embarrassingly mundane: I am dropping my daughter at nursery school; going to the supermarket; having a drink at the champagne bar in St Pancras station (in a desperate attempt to inject a little glamour); and shopping in the West End. At least I’m not heading to Peckham for a kebab, the sort of excursion the Home Secretary inflicts on her security team.

My three-year-old daughter thinks being carefully settled into her booster seat by a regimental sergeant-major is hilarious, but I’m already flustered by the stares and whispers from the school-run mothers negotiating their way around my menacing entourage, so much so that I forget everything – her school bag, her water bottle and my handbag – until we are outside the school gates. And so the whole stately procession has to lumber back home to collect it with a flurry of crackly orders given over the intercom.

I suppose I initially expected the CPOs would smooth out all of life’s niggles for me, but as I soon discover, that’s not what they are there for. At Waitrose, for instance, there is no sending Gary to look for loo rolls while Matt locates the cat food. I must push the trolley myself, while my team scans the aisles with narrowed eyes. At one point, I decide to do a runner, and quickly shoot off to fruit and veg when I think nobody’s looking; but when I stop, triumphant, it is to find a gently puffing Bob on my heels and Gary at the other end of the aisle to cut off my escape.

We are not an inconspicuous group, and within minutes, a Waitrose security guard approaches and asks what’s going on. I duck down, blushing purple, and pretend to be choosing soap powder. “Personal security,” Gary tells him calmly. After that, everywhere I look, I seem to see a new shop security guard, eyeballing me to work out why I’m famous. The checkout girl is in fits of excited giggles until she gets her mitts on my bank card and scrutinises my name; then she just looks puzzled.

The cars have been drawn up right outside the shop doors, blocking everyone else’s route out of the car park. Thankfully, Gary et al have decided that the threat level surrounding me is on the low side (although there was a rather sinister-looking bearded chap in the shop), so they help me load everything in. Altogether, supermarket shopping with a security team is a distinctly embarrassing experience.

On the other hand, it is delightful being chauffeured into the West End for lunch, knowing that your driver will be outside, in defiance of the traffic wardens, when you decide to emerge. At the champagne bar, and Yauatcha, the Soho dim sum restaurant where I meet a friend for venison puffs, nobody bats an eyelid when we ask for a table for my personal protection team (although I feel unreasonably peeved at having their mineral water automatically added to my bill, especially as I drank tap). It is obviously no longer unusual in the capital’s fleshpots.

Shopping is fun, too. You wouldn’t believe how friendly the X-ray assistants on Bond Street become when you enter with a posse, although the warmth of the welcome slightly wears off if you head straight for the sale rail. The boys, meanwhile, scope out the back of the shop and the other floors, to make sure that they’ve covered all possible exits; the shop assistants, like the restaurant, seem to be entirely used to this sort of behaviour. As we set off down the street again (the crowd parting to let my black-clad gang through, like shoals of small fish dodging a predator), they point out to me all the other CPOs they spot – three in the first 100m.

At Myla, purveyor of smart but saucy underwear, I cannot repress a giggle at seeing Michael, his face tactfully blank, taking up position facing a row of exotically coloured vibrators. “I know who you are,” says the shop assistant eagerly. “You’re in the Government, aren’t you?” “I’m afraid I’m not allowed to tell you,” I answer, although as I am examining a pair of split-gusset knickers at the time, I am not sure why she thinks this.

“Naomi Campbell’s only got two bodyguards,” she goes on, “so you’ve got to be really important.” Actually I know this already, because Campbell’s CPO is also a graduate of the Task International training course, although one suspects that she hired him for his looks as well as his skills – he’s apparently a dishy, 6ft 9in Jamaican, and must make her feel fragile and petite. I bet she doesn’t throw her mobile at him.

Having a team of bodyguards certainly makes you feel looked after but nevertheless, after an afternoon of being goggled at, I suddenly feel exhausted. I collapse into the Mercedes and am chauffeured home, delighted that close protection etiquette means they won’t speak unless spoken to. Of course, for those who actually need protection, lack of privacy is a price well worth paying. Sir Salman Rushdie complained to friends that he felt bereft when his security team was suddenly removed by Scotland Yard. More seriously, the evidence given at the inquest of Diana, Princess of Wales, suggests that the fatal car crash may have been down to a failure to take seriously the advice of the security team.

“I’m conscious of it, I’ve learnt to live with it,” said Lady Thatcher of her ever-present security arrangements. “After the Brighton bomb, one was desperately worried. The way you think about life is that it’s not going to happen to me, and then it

happened. I accept their advice and you have to, because they have a job to do. They’re in danger as well. Politics in a free society couldn’t carry on without them – that is the importance of the work they do.”

“I found having a close protection team a great support,” says Anna (not her real name), whose husband was an important figure in the oil industry. “After he passed away suddenly and unexpectedly, I was in a volatile situation. If certain people had got hold of me, they could potentially have gained access to the business.”

After getting anonymous threatening calls, mysterious power failures at home and intruders trying to break in the day before her husband's funeral, she employed a team from the risk management firm Inkerman Group, whose past clients have included the Dalai Lama.

“That allowed me to get matters under control,” Anna says. “They were very discreet and they freed me up to concentrate on the important things – I wasn’t having to worry about who was trying to get at me. Recently, I was coming home from a swimming class when a car pulled over in front of me and a man got out with a shotgun. I was on my own and there were no other cars in sight. But I think my experience of having protection made me much calmer than I would have been. I just sat there and faced them, and then another car came round the corner and the gunman drove off.”

According to Gerald Moor, Inkerman Group’s affable CEO, the biggest increase in demand for CPOs has come from anxious parents hiring bodyguards for their children. “It’s gone up by about 40 per cent in the past two years, but really shot up in the past six months, which is possibly the Madeleine McCann effect,” he says. “The worry is that the child would be kidnapped and held to ransom, so a CPO will take them to school and to their violin lessons. Schools are used to it, especially in the Kensington area.”

Isn’t this something of an over-reaction? “I don’t think so,” he says. “In France, there’s still a gendarme on duty outside every school at opening and closing time because one child was snatched from a school years ago. A child is a very vulnerable extension of the parent.” Nobody, of course, wants their child to be the centre of unwanted attention. “Apart from anything else, an easily identifi-able bodyguard will be the first target,” says Barry Strevens, who as a Special Branch DCI protected Lady Thatcher from the mid-Seventies until the late Nineties. “The best close protection officer is understated.”

As a result, the traditional image of a bodyguard is changing: from a sunglasses-wearing, muscle-bound lunk to a normal-looking man – or woman – in civvies. There has been a huge increase in demand for women bodyguards – not only from Middle Eastern princesses, but also from businessmen, who prefer their security arrangements to be as discreet as possible. In addition, today’s bodyguard is expected to have computer skills, resuscitation techniques, evasive driving and ideally several languages at his or her fingertips.

The rewards, says Strevens, can be immense: “I know someone who works for a Middle Eastern royal family who earns a quarter of a million a year.” Roman Abramovich’s team of bodyguards are reportedly paid £5,000 a month each, excluding bonuses, and J.K. Rowling is said to spend £150,000 a year on her security. The average salary would be £40,000, with all expenses, including accommodation, paid for by the client.

Personal security teams are an expensive luxury, and it remains to be seen whether the credit crunch and the threatened non-dom tax sends the super-rich scurrying elsewhere and deals a killer blow to this newly burgeoning business. All I can say is, once you know where to look, it’s extraordinary how many curly earpieces are being worn around town these days.

Interesting Links

Close Protection Training  CQB Training for Close Protection Resources for Close Protection


Source : Times - Lydia Slater

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